Those of us who are lucky are blessed with dogs who live long and healthy lives. But even those dogs will slow down and show signs of aging that can be more difficult for us humans to adjust to than for our pooches.
Here are 10 things I’ve learned from having now lived with three dogs over 15 years-old:
1. Stick to the routine. Whether it’s visual impairment, dementia, or some other age-related issue, older dogs like predictability. This is not the time to rearrange the furniture, move to a new place, or start living with a fire-juggler.
2. Organize it. Your dog may take a number of supplements or drugs. It is easier if everything is labeled and set up in a way that makes it quick and easy to make sure you don’t skip anything important.
3. Find ways to include them. Older dogs may not be able to go on long walks with your and the rest of the pack, but you can find ways to include them. A doggy stroller or a wagon are great ways to get your older pooch out of the house without putting to much demand on him. If you’re going out when it’s chilly, make sure to wrap him up so he’s toasty. And make sure to give your hound the opportunity to get off the wagon and sniff around a little too.
4. Just follow them. When I let Justin (15-1/2) outside, it can take him what seems like forever to come back in. And I don’t know whether he’s having fun, lost, or worse stuck somewhere (he tends to stick his snout in places his body can’t get out of it). It’s easier on both of us if I just go with him. And I live in the rainy northwest. That’s what waterproof jackets are for–yes, we both have one.
5. Hey, he can hear that! Even if your dog can no longer hear most things, chances are there are a few sounds that will get her attention. Two of my older dogs couldn’t hear my voice, but both could hear the sound of a spoon clinking on a bowl and the sound of clapping. When I want to help Justin find his way back in the house, I clap and he follows me (most of the time). I imagine we’re our own parade.
6. Accidents WILL happen, so rather than get impatient and frustrated, plan for them. Have a whole drawer or doggy clean-up supplies at the ready. And if you regularly encourage your dog to go outside, that will minimize the problem. You should also go regularly, just in case THAT is also a problem.
7. Know that there are solutions out there. Copper, my first older dog became paralyzed, but through the use of a doggy wheelchair, physical therapy (which I did by tickling his legs and stimulating his kick response), and acupuncture, he was able to walk again and had three more years of healthy activity. And with the internet, solutions are often just a click away. DO make sure that when it comes to supplements and drugs that you only rely on reputable providers.
8. Slow down. Most older dogs still want plenty of belly rubs and ear scratches, but if they can see only shadow and light, a fast hand coming towards them may be met with a snap of the jaws. Don’t sneak up on your older hound, let him sniff you first to know it’s you, and perhaps start your love from the other end.
9. Cuddle up. When you’re in bed with your senior dog, years can slowly melt away and the great chemical bond you create will help you cope with the stresses the day may have thrown your way.
10. If you try to re-home your dog because she is getting up in years, karma will bit you in the butt. You signed up for this, so person up and do the right thing.